Author: Purva Khetrapal, February 3 2018 - Working in the communication team of a human rights organization, it always disappointed us how stories of gender-based violence are reported in media. While sensitization of journalists towards issues related to violence against women has been taken up by few organizations in recent past, are we also paying attention to the images that are used to report stories of such crimes?

What is the purpose of an image that goes out with a story? Is it just a medium to attract attention or do images speak to us? I believe that images have a strong impact on the minds of a story reader and add to the narrative of the society. If you sit back and introspect, you will realize that whenever you read a newspiece reporting gender-based violence, the image used usually portrays woman as a powerless object whose identity gets shaped by tragedies that befell her. While we always see the face of the victim and feel pity for the survivor, what we never feel is empathy for the victim/survivor. What we also never feel is anger towards the perpetrator, because after all where is the perpetrator in the image?

There’s a huge room for sensitized reporting in media, which cannot be achieved without paying attention to all those questions above and which is why, we at Breakthrough decided to build an image repository of sensitized representations of gender-based violence, popularize it and make it available to everyone for use.

In taking this further ahead, we partnered with Instagram, for maybe a first of its kind initiative, where we wanted to scale up the intellectual leadership of visualizers, graphic designers, illustrators, artists, photographers, writers, activists, journalists, people working on gender issues to rethink images of violence.

We gathered as many as 20 creative people from the community for an intense discussion that spanned from establishing the problem with the current set of images in circulation in media - to - visualizing concepts which could be implemented to counter misogynist representations of GBV.

The discussion amongst the participants was an exciting one. While some emphasized on how the focus could be shifted to the perpetrator, some spoke about how the colors or the background in images recreates the horror of violence and needed to be changed. A participant who was a photographer brought in the point about how it was also essential to think about what is it that a photograph can capture and what is it that can reflect through an illustration. Legally, if it’s not possible to put out the face of victim/survivor or the perpetrator then what can be captured through a lens that contributes to the counter-narrative?

Our discussions also got us thinking about gender-neutral ways of the portrayal of gender-based violence faced by men, boys, and people from LGBTQIA community.

When we talk about gender-based violence, the power at play is not only between the victim/survivor and the perpetrator. Power plays at multiple levels. The society, the authorities, family everybody comes in. Keeping this in mind, a lot of participants spoke about how we can move beyond a depiction of just the perpetrator or the victim/survivor and for instance depict bystander intervention or simply a supportive legal and judicial system. Participants followed different methods to arrive at a concept. One group spoke about how envisioning ideas such as empathy, justice and agency enabled them to come up with ideas for images which change the narrative.

It took us many of such intense sessions to finally come up with a sensitized image repository of gender-based violence that is now available on the internet under creative commons license so that these images can be used by media outlets when they report on GBV next and help to draw a counter-narrative in the society. A narrative that doesn’t tell survivors that s/he did not ‘behave’ like a victim or blame them for their situation so that a social and behaviour change towards the survivor can aspire.

Is it unreal and ambitious to envision an empowered life for a person who has been subjected to violence? Can we break free from a cycle of violence? I believe we can and we have to make that journey from depicting a victim to depicting a survivor. The dominant patriarchal narrative has to be challenged and we are all set to do so by simply redrawing it.